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  • The Conspiracy to Destroy Apple

    June 21st, 2006

    You know, everyone loves a good conspiracy theory, and while I’ve got your attention, let me make it quite clear that this really isn’t a single or unified movement to wreck the company. No, it’s a collection of conspiracies, separate movements that, while no doubt honorable in intent, would end up destroying Apple Computer as we know it.

    For now, I’ll ignore the claims from some tech pundits that Apple cannot succeed on the long haul, despite over 30 years of doing just that. These misguided theories suggest that Apple’s marketing plan of that particular moment is fatally flawed and that, while the company might experience some success for a limited period of time, it will ultimately fail.

    One particular movement is to make more of the Mac OS and perhaps some or all of Apple’s applications completely open source. Advocates of this point of view remind us of the Linux community, which has resulted in an operating system that has gained a lot of traction in the business world. Wouldn’t it make sense for Apple to do the very same thing, so it can benefit from improved market share?

    The answer is a resounding “No!”

    Apple strives to give you a complete personal computing solution, with an operating system tailored to specific hardware, and a set of exclusive applications to match. It is also, as computers go, reasonably user-friendly, even for rank novices. In contrast, Linux is a total mess, and is anything but easy for the casual user to install and configure. True, there are desktop-oriented interfaces, but most strike you as nothing more than a warmed-over Windows.

    Now consider the impact to Apple if it made its crown jewels freely available to the open source community without restriction. As one extremely knowledgeable writer, Daniel Eran explains in one of his brilliant (as usual) roughlydrafted.com commentaries, “If Apple lost their retail revenues for iLife and Mac OS X, they would lose profitability and have to scale back on research and development, making their overall package less compelling, which would sap new hardware sales. If Apple lost hardware sales, their ability to develop new software and drive innovation would stall, and their software would lose its market.”

    So you still think the open source route makes sense for Apple?

    Others suggest that Apple should license Mac OS X to other computing companies. Yes, we know that Michael Dell would love to install it on his PC boxes, and it’s certainly true that a few power users have induced it to run on their cheap computers. But compatibility and drivers are not quite there. Worse, the folks who suggest this maneuver forget the lessons of history. Do you remember when Apple actually attempted to license manufacturers to sell Mac OS clones? Firms such as Power Computing, Motorola and Umax put Apple licensed logic boards and its operating system into cheap PC cases. They also went after Apple’s most profitable markets with a vengeance and nearly killed the company.

    When Steve Jobs took over, he brought the program to a screeching halt, and the lesson is clear: Mac OS X for Intel is designed to work strictly on a Mac. Yes, some may succeed in making it run on other computers, but it will never be officially sanctioned by Apple, and they will continue to enhance security to stay ahead of the crackers.

    Another no doubt well-intentioned group wants Apple to ditch the core or kernel of Mac OS X in plug in the one from Linux. Forgetting the technical difficulties, they claim that Mac OS X is much slower, and that superior performance requires replacing its foundation. Again, Daniel Eran unearths the fallacy of such a maneuver in a series of columns, pointing out the fatal flaws in those few tests that attempt to benchmark this claim. Worse, even if it were possible, it would cause developers, many of whom are still struggling with developing Universal versions of their applications, more conniptions as they had to swim through yet another sea of change.

    I don’t know about you, but if I wrote Mac software, and had to undergo another major transition so quickly, I’d be ready to cry “uncle,” and take my products elsewhere.

    The folks behind these various movements for change appear to regard Steve Jobs and his crew as somehow ignorant of what’s needed to really goose Mac sales. Such people feel they have a better way, but, in the end, their ideas could very well destroy the company they want to save.



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    8 Responses to “The Conspiracy to Destroy Apple”

    1. TomB says:

      It also kills me to see people say the iPod is “closed” when nobody is forcing anyone to use Apple’s AAC music format; you can stick 100% to open-format MP3’s.

    2. Peter says:

      Yes, we know that Michael Dell would love to install it on his PC boxes […]

      Actually, in my opinion, Michael Dell could care less about installing Mac OS X on his PC boxes.

      Dell makes money by moving a lot of boxes at low margin. Dell is somewhat WalMart like, though, in that they can pretty much go to their suppliers and say, “We want this at this price. Don’t like it? Too bad.” He can do that with everyone–except Microsoft. They’re the only ones who supply an operating system and they can set whatever price they want and Dell has to pay it. Dell has an alternative operating system–Red Hat Linux–for their servers. They would love to have a consumer oriented operating system for their desktop and laptop systems other than Microsoft’s because then they would have a big stick to hit Microsoft with–“We want this at this price. Don’t like it? We can always push Mac OS X…”

    3. sam williams says:

      While the Intel switch was a good decision, I can’t help but think that Jobs is uneasy with the all too clear distinction that exists now between the Apple OS and its hardware. The OS X86 project (osx86project.org) in particular reveals, as if we didn’t already know, that OS X is just software like Linux, Windows, or DOS. With the right drivers, it will run fine on a cheap Dell or whatever. The truth is it’s *always* been just software, but Jobs has pimped it as a single inseparable thing with the OS deeply integrated into the specific hardware technologies. But even with ROMs and altivec optimizations the emperor really never had any clothes on this score.

      I already have a high-end PC, so why do I have to by *another* one to run OS X? Why can’t I buy OS X off-the-shelf like Linux, Windows, DOS, etc? And so what if driver support might be less robust in that scenario. It’s not great for Linux, and millions manage to make it work.

      This is the crux of the matter for many potential switchers that Jobs just doesn’t get. There are many of us who don’t give a rip about enclosure aesthetics or the Apple logo. Forget about arguments on relative pricing as millions of potential switchers already have hardware. The Apple faithful actually believe that ILife is worth the (hardware) price of admission, and for a small percentage it is. The rest of us don’t think that way.

    4. Ivo Wiesner says:

      This is the crux of the matter for many potential switchers that Jobs just doesn’t get.

      Rather than simply not getting what potential customers might be expecting from Apple, I would imagine that Jobs has had plenty of time over the last decades to think about the various options for his company. As Gene pointed out in his article, opening up the OS for other hardware manufacturers didn’t work out for Apple in the past, so why make the same mistake twice?

      I have to admit that Mac aesthetics are somewhat important to me – I particularly notice how important when I occasionally use somebody’s PC and invariable come away thinking how unpleasant and visually dissatisfying the whole Windows experience is. However, that is not the real reason why I use a Mac. It boils down to this:

      When I see a PC working as advertised, I am surprised. When I see a Mac not working as advertised, I am surprised. That, to me, is the difference between PCs and Macs. Never mind any arguments about eye candy, price differences, cult status, or whatever.

      I expect my Mac to work flawlessly – and most of the time it does.

    5. sam williams says:

      As Gene pointed out in his article, opening up the OS for other hardware manufacturers didn’t work out for Apple in the past, so why make the same mistake twice?

      What I suggested was boxing the OS and putting it on the shelf like other software. That’s something Apple has not done. I’m interested in OS X, I already have a PC, and since OS X runs on Intel where can I buy it? I see…so I have to buy Apple’s PC to run it. Silly dum consumer me.

      This of course is classic bait and switch.

      I expect my Mac to work flawlessly – and most of the time it does.

      So does my PC, so we’re both happy. Still, I’d buy OS X (for the iLife stuff) if only I could run it on what I have.

    6. Ivo Wiesner says:

      This of course is classic bait and switch.

      I don’t understand – where is the bait, and where is the switch? Apple never said anything other than that Windows will run on a Mac, but OS X will never be supported on generic PCs. It doesn’t get any clearer than that?

      A lot of people think (I am one of them) that the overriding arguments for choosing a Mac over a PC are greater reliability and superior ease of use. Obviously, one can get the same jobs done on a PC, but there might be unexpected software and hardware conflicts along the way, which, frankly, creative professionals don’t have the time or the nerve to deal with. And I haven’t even mentioned viruses, worms or other nasty animals yet.

      If OS X was just another OS you could buy off the shelves, I would expect it over time to become a fragmented, unreliable piece of junk just like… well, you get the idea.

      Don’t get me wrong – I have had to troubleshoot my Mac more than once, and I am very happy for you that your PC works well. But if I compare my overall computing experience (as a non-geek) with that of my PC-afflicted friends I just know that there is currently no contest between the two platforms.

    7. […] The Conspiracy to Destroy Apple… that this really isn’ta single or unified movement to wreck the company. No, it’sa collection of conspiracies, separate movements that, while no doubt honorable in intent, would end up destroying Apple Computer as […] […]

    8. steve says:

      Still, I’d buy OS X (for the iLife stuff) if only I could run it on what I have.

      While the iLife stuff comes on new Macs, it doesn’t come with new versions of the OS. When it comes time to upgrade, you have to purchase iLife separately, and there is no upgrade discount.

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